Regulators: San Onofre Leak Could Have Escaped Outside

Southern California Edison Says Minor Water Leak Does Not Pose Danger

A nuclear reactor at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station remained off-line Thursday for the second consecutive day due to an equipment problem that sent a small, non-hazardous amount of radioactive gas into an auxiliary building and possibly into the atmosphere, authorities said.

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The leak in a steam-generator tube in Unit 3 at the power plant just north of Camp Pendleton was detected about 6 p.m. Tuesday, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

An alarm alerted station personnel to the presence of radioactivity in the ancillary structure, and they immediately began shutting down the reactor, NRC spokesman Victor Dricks said.

Gil Alexander, a spokesman for facility operator Southern California Edison, said that radioactive water was passing through a crack inside the generators at a rate of 80 to 100 gallons per day when Edison began the shutdown early Tuesday evening.

Since the equipment-housing building into which the gas leaked is not airtight, it is possible a "very, very low level" of radioactivity escaped into the environment, according to Dricks, who said those traces would be "barely measurable against (existing) background levels" and would pose no danger to the public.

As of Wednesday night, Southern California Edison, which operates the facility, said that sensitive monitoring instruments continued to show no change in radiation levels that would be detectable off-site.

"It's another red flag," said Gary Headrick, the founder of a group called San Clemente Green. "I don’t know how many red flags we'll get before something really tragic happens here."

Headrick pointed to the thick plume of steam coming from the plant and added, "There’s radiation coming out. I don't know how much. Nobody knows how much until they can cool the generators down."

SONGS crews will fully evaluate the cause of the mishap and the steps required to repair it before resuming operations, according to Southern California Edison, which operates the facility.

Once the problem is resolved, it will likely take several days for the reactor to be restarted, the Rosemead-based utility advised.

At the time of the accident, the other reactor at the plant already was powered down for routine maintenance, refueling and technology upgrades. Still, the utility had ample reserve power to meet customer needs, according to SCE officials.

Headrick said the company that runs the San Onofre plant cannot be trusted.

"They should shut it down because we know there's problems and they continue to insist on running the plant… putting 8 million people at risk so that they can make millions of dollars every day that those generators are running," he said.

10News on Tuesday spoke with Murray Jennex, a utility expert and professor at San Diego State University who also helped design, build and at one time operate the nuclear power plant.

Jennex said a leak like this is a common occurrence, but still cause for concern because Unit 3 has a new steam generator.

"It isn't a good sign," he told 10News. "I would have hoped it would have gone a year or two before any leaks started occurring."

On Nov. 1, an alert was issued when an ammonia leak was detected in a water-treatment system. That leak was equivalent to a chemical spill and it also posed no threat to the public.

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